“Magic-maker, gold fringe enthusiast, and designer of colorful parties,” Michelle Bablo is a wealth of information on making small business profitable, and luckily for us, she likes to share more than just her booming descriptions. The Brooklyn-based creative, also known as an event designer, stylist, and florist in more colloquial terms, has parlayed her love for “making messes into a full-time (dream) job.” Though she felt like she had lived 100 different lives and worked equally as many jobs before starting her own company, that formative period remains an essential training ground, even though she hated it while there. Uncertainty about her career made Michelle question lots of things, including her self-worth, until her mother suggested she stop contributing to the success of others and define what that concept meant to herself.
Though mini failures along the way are inevitable, the flexibility cultivated to succeed in the long term also makes these fleeting moments easier to embrace and learn from. Trying is the only way to prosper. “Asking for help is hard, Michelle says, but, “doing everything yourself is harder.” If the going gets tough, she recommends talking with other entrepreneurs who can empathize. “When you share your experiences with others, it can make your business feel like so much bigger than just yourself.” And that’s just what she plans to do. —Annie
Why did you decide to start your own business?
The actual reason for starting my business was because I got fired from a freelance events job. It wasn’t a job that I particularly loved, but I was trying really hard to make it “THE” job for me. In the six or seven years before that, I had worked a lot of different jobs – doing everything from film production, to merchandising at Anthropologie, to selling vintage on Etsy. In that time I had never really found a job or a career that was the right fit. And for a long time that made me really anxious – as if not finding my dream job somehow made me less of a good person. But getting fired was the absolute best thing that could’ve happened to me. It changed my perspective and made me take a real look at what I wanted in a job, in a career, and most importantly, in a lifestyle. It also made me realize how valuable working in a lot of different industries and for a bunch of small businesses had been. I was really good at thinking on my feet, at managing a team, setting up systems, and working with big budgets. Even though my path had previously seemed really disjointed and random, it actually added up to a lot of skills that made starting my own business make sense. I also had a ton of encouragement from my mom – who basically told me to stop making other people’s dreams come true and start working on my own. Thanks, Mom!
I did a lot of research and a ton of soul searching. I had worked for so many different businesses – small and large – and had a lot of opinions about what worked and what didn’t. My biggest inspiration for the overall vibe of my business was Shana Tabor and her company In God We Trust. I worked for them as a merchandiser for about a year and they had the absolute best sense of humor of any brand I’ve ever seen. They were authentic and weird and didn’t apologize for being different. I knew from the beginning that my company wouldn’t be shiny, perfectly styled, and appeal to everyone. That’s just not me. I laugh loudly, I make big messes, and I more-than-occasionally curse. I wanted my business to be accessible and real and reflect all of the quirky things that made me, me. Thankfully people have responded really well to it and I’ve gotten to work with some really funny and weird and amazing clients.
I don’t remember exactly where I read this, but Seth Godin said, “There’s a big difference between being prepared and being ready. Ready is a choice.” It’s become sort of a mantra for me as I’ve grown my business. It’s a reminder to trust myself, my experiences, and my gut when it comes to pushing my business forward. It’s also a reminder that I can’t wait for someone else to tell me I can do something. It’s that say-yes, jump-in-with-both-feet, and-see-where-I-land spirit that keeps me motivated to try new things and push past those little fears that sometimes seem so big.
What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
I am generally very bad at asking for help. And for a long time I was running my business, making all of the projects, and trying to take on every little task myself. Everyone does it. You have to do it that way when you’re starting out. But what I learned the hard way is that sometimes the project suffered if I didn’t clear my head and create the bandwidth to focus on the bigger decisions. I’d be so caught up in some minor problem that I didn’t realize there was something even bigger that needed my attention. But sometimes you’re in the thick of it and you don’t realize how much easier your life would be if you asked for help. Then you do and you’re like, “Ohhh. I’ve been doing it the hard way.” Asking for help is hard. Doing everything yourself is harder.
Stay flexible.Things don’t always go as planned and that should be expected. Being able to switch gears, think clearly, and solve problems on the fly is KEY. You can’t be effective if you’re overwhelmed and don’t have a plan B, C, or D. It also helps if you keep a smile on your face and you’re not a total nightmare to deal with. People respond better if you’re cool, calm, and collected.
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experience?
What’s the saying? If you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough? I subscribe to that whole-heartedly. I used to be really held back by a fear of failing. But now I realize that every project has a mini failure – something you could’ve done better, or something you didn’t think about. Sometimes it’s not communicating with a client clearly enough, or not following up on an important email. Or sometimes you’re exhausted and sobbing on the floor of a hotel room arranging flowers at 3 am. You can choose to make yourself crazy by obsessing over all the things you’ve done wrong. Or you can laugh at yourself, get a coffee, and move forward. It’s not always easy, but embracing those moments of failure have made me a much better business person. And if not better, then at least more fun to be around.
My sanity and my relationship have both been tested SO many times because my apartment has functioned as both a home and a studio since I started. Sleeping next to buckets of flowers, building backdrops in my living room, and having every inch of my kitchen covered in scraps of paper isn’t exactly relaxing. And it’s almost impossible to find a work/life balance when you are literally living inside of your work. Giving up that separation between work and home has been a big sacrifice, for sure. But it’s also been a way to test my skills and my business and see what worked.
Can you name your greatest success in your business experience?
I have two! The first was signing the lease on my new studio space. As I mentioned, working from home has been a major bummer on more than one occasion. And having a place to make a big mess outside of my house has already drastically reduced the stress on my home life. God bless my boyfriend for putting up with me and my messes for so long. The second was working with Tina Roth Eisenberg AKA Swiss Miss on a bunch of different creative projects. She has always been one of my design heroes and when she contacted me about designing her birthday party last year I was completely thrilled. Since then, Tina has become a friend and mentor. She’s also the one who gave me a kick in the pants to get a studio – knowing that as soon as I had it, I would fill it with work. And I have!
The best resource I can recommend is the people and businesses that you admire. Talking with people who have done what you want to do – who have gone through the steps of starting a business – can be such an enjoyable and eye-opening experience. It also gives you an excuse to ask your icons out to coffee. I also love the 99U book series. They’re easy to read and have so much amazing information in them. And, of course, Creative Mornings. It’s a free breakfast lecture series for creatives and a community that I have found so much inspiration in. They have chapters all over the world and you can also watch all of their talks online.
1. Do you have a solid support system? Friends and family are essential. And I also think every business owner should have a network of other entrepreneurs that they can talk to about running a business. Whether it’s practical questions about insurance and taxes, or just someone who knows what you’re going through – it really helps! And when you share your experiences with others, it can make your business feel like so much bigger than just yourself.
2. Are you willing to be really, really bad at something that you love? Being a business owner means having to master essentially every part of your business. No matter how skilled or passionate you are, there are going to be things that you’re downright bad at. Consider how well you deal with fear, stress, and conflict. Are you willing to fail a few times to make your dreams come true?
3. How disciplined are you? Being your own boss means making your own schedule. But it also means that your business exclusively relies on your available time and energy. You have to be a self-starter. You have to keep yourself organized. And you have to put in the work hours, sometimes, even when you’d rather be at the beach. Staying motivated is 100% up to you.